LINKLATER - Aith, Sandwick, Orkney


The people and place in Orkney


Agriculture. Much of the information required under this branch of inquiry, I expected to have procured from the tenants ; but it is proper to explain, that many of them having been prohibited from divulging the secret of their real rent, and quantity of land, I have been under the necessity of extracting the truth from other sources. More than half of this parish has lately been divided under a process of division of run-rig, and of this part, the number of acres of arable and pasture land, with the comparative value of each, has been exactly ascertained; and knowing the proportion between the valued rent of this part, and that which remains undivided, I am furnished with materials from which to calculate the number of acres of arable and pasture land in the whole parish, with more precision than formerly; and the knowledge of the real rent of (a part, amounting to more than £ 600, gives me also materials for calculating the real rent of the whole, which 1 believe to be nearly £1600, but which I shall at present calculate at £1500 ; and I have pleasure in acknowledging the politeness of Mr Graham, the Crown Chamberlain, and the surveyor, in procuring most of the documents. The valuation of the parish, more than twenty years ago is far below the Present value, some tenants paying more than double of the rent then stated.

Rent of Land. The average rent of arable land per acre is 10s , and the average rent of pasture land about '2s. per acre.

Rate of Wages. The following is the rate of wages. A ploughman per year, £ 7, or more if he acts as grieve, with board, or equivalent in meal, &c.; a male day labourer gets 1s. and a female 6d. without fare; female servants in gentlemen's families have £ 3 a-year. For harvest, men get £ l, 10s. and females £ l. Masons may be got to build dikes at 1s. 3d. a-day, and 11d. a fathom for building and quarrying a dry stone dike, 3½ feet high, with coping. More perfect masons obtain 2s. a-day for the best kind of work ; carpenters get 2s. a-day and food.

Prices. The prices of different articles of raw produce, or country manufacture, are, fowls, 8d. each ; eggs, 3d. per dozen ; beef and mutton, about Martinmas, 2d. per lb., but dearer at other seasons; butter, 6d. per lb. potatoes, the dearest, 3s. per barrel ; an iron plough, £ 2; a wooden one, £ l, 10s. ; a cart £ 4, 4s.; a pair of harrows, 14s. or 15s. The common breeds of cattle are the small ones of the county, and little attention has been paid to their improvement. The general character of the husbandry is still exceedingly defective, most of the ground having been alternately in oats and bear for generations, without the benefit of green crop, grass, or fallow, except a rig or two on each farm, for the potatoes. The soil is, in consequence, full of a great variety of weeds, and exhausted; and I deem it of the utmost importance, that a regular rotation of crops should be introduced suiting the course and kind of crop, to the soil and climate; but hitherto there has been a greater desire to increase the quantity of arable ground, by reclaiming waste land, than to increase the productive power of that which is already arable, by rotation and draining. In general there are no leases, and in the few cases where they exist, their duration is only about seven years, so that they afford no adequate encouragement for improvements by the tenants. The state of the farm-buildings is as bad as that of the dwelling-house which I mentioned before, and there are no inclosures among the peasantry, except those of their ‘kale yards’.

The principal improvements which have recently been introduced among the tenants, are better horses, and implements of agriculture, and those in my neighbourhood are also trying turnips on a small scale. The single-stilted plough, used here at the beginning of this century, is now completely abolished, with all its cumbrous machinery, and the common two-stilted mould-board one substituted in its place, and a pair of good small horses, instead of three or four with their leaders. Harrows with teeth of iron instead of wood, and carts are now universally used. The public road from Stromness is made as far as the Loch of Aith, and in tolerable repair.

Mr Watt is by far the most extensive farmer in the parish, and has for many years carried on an improved system of husbandry ; enclosing and reclaiming waste land on a large scale,-his last inclosure off the common, a few years since, including about 100 acres. Mr Robertson in Lyking deserves next to be noticed with approbation, for his success in raising the best crops, and acting on an improved system. Mr Heddle of Clumly, who purchased that property about five years ago, has already inclosed the whole of it, and brought most of its waste land into cultivation.

The glebe has also, during the last four years, been inclosed and drained; and this is the only farm in the parish, or, in a much wider district, that is under a regular rotation of crops. The course adopted is that of six years, viz. green crop, bear, two years grass, and two years oats ; but it would, be premature to affirm that this is the rotation best adapted to the county, or most worthy of general imitation. This experiment however, has shown that the crops are vastly improved by the rotation, and that the first years are attended with more expense than profit. All the obstacles to improvement, noticed in the heads of inquiry, operate here in their full force, viz. want of capital, the want of encouragement by proprietors, erroneous management of land, defective leases, and insufficient accommodation in building and inclosing.

Produce. The average gross amount of raw produce cannot be stated with precision, as the people could not tell it; but the principle on which valuators generally calculate, is, that the produce should be three times the value of the rent, which makes the total amount of the raw produce raised in this parish £ 4500, and this is almost exclusively in grain, and a few potatoes for their own use. The only crop cultivated for the arts is rye, for making bonnets, nine acres of which are raised by Mr Watt, at what appears a liberal rent of £ 6, 10s. per acre, but he has to manure and work the land, and furnish carts whenever they are required, for carrying the produce to the boiler, thence to the bleaching-field, and thence to Kirkwall, or Stromness.

Manufactures. The principal branch of manufacture carried on here, is straw plaiting, which occupies almost all our younger females; or, in summer, reaping and preparing the nine acres of rye that furnish the materials. The seeds are sown thick, that the straw may be long and fine. The stems are cut down before the grain ripens, tied near the lower end into very small bundles, steeped in boiling water for an hour, spread on the ground to bleach, and carted to the manufacturer's house, where the upper part between the highest joint and the grain which only in general is used, is pulled out; cut to a proper length, sifted or sorted to different degrees of fineness, and made up into small bundles, which arc distributed to the girls who take them to their own houses to be plaited; they are paid according to the fineness of the straw, and excellence of the work. The plaiters can earn 6d. a day at the present rate of wages. The plaits are next washed, smoked, milled, and, lastly, put into the hands of other girls, who sew them together into bonnets. At one time, this by manufacture was conducted in a very objectionable manner by collecting numbers of young people in confined apartments where, as “evil communications corrupt good manners,” and “one sinner destroyeth much good,” it is to be feared the contaminated atmosphere was not only destructive to their bodily health, but to their moral purity. The same objections, however, do not apply to it as conducted at present in their own houses, where it has a tendency to introduce neatness and cleanliness; but it is a serious objection, that the whim of a London lady may render it unfashionable to appear under a thatch of straw, and thus at once throw destitute 3000 Orcadian damsels.

The manufacture of kelp is not of great importance here now, only about eight tons are made, -and it neither affords much employment nor profit.


There is no town or village in the parish, but the centre is only about five miles from Stromness, and about fifteen from Kirkwall.

Our letters pass through the Stromness Post Office ; and the length of made-road from the centre of this, to join that in Stromness parish, is two miles.

Ecclesiastical State. The parish church is placed about 100 yards from the bay at the west side, and about five miles from the other extremity,-a situation which is most inconvenient for all the population, except the few in that neighbourhood, the nearest cottage being nearly a mile distant, As this church was built so lately as 1836, partly on the foundation of the former one - it is my duty to relieve the presbytery of the bounds, and the minister of the awful responsibility of approving of such a site : for after the principal heritors had petitioned the presbytery for a removal of the church to a central situation, and that court had cordially approved of a measure so eminently calculated to promote the glory of God, and salvation of souls, the opposition of the very person who had written, and been most prominent in promoting that petition, effectually defeated the arrangement. From this it is evident that presbyteries should be vested with authority to fix on the proper sites for churches.

Though so recently built, I cannot say that its present state of repair is good, for being founded partly On the foundation of the old church, and partly on soft sand, the wall cracked so far, that the arch of a window came down, and that being rebuilt, it has again cracked in such a manner, that it gives little prospect of durability. It contains 564 sittings, which are not yet divided. The manse was built in 1833. The glebe consists of 43⅓ acres, nearly half of which used to be arable ground, and the rest poor pasture, or waste land, which was let altogether for about £12.

The stipend is the minimum of £150, with £ 8, 6s. 8d. for communion elements, - £6, 5s. 6d. of the stipend being paid from Exchequer.

There are two Dissenting chapels in the parish, one belonging to the United Secession church, and the other to the Independents. The former was erected in 1828, and the minister [This gentleman has politely furnished the information concerning his own chapel, which is given, as far as consistent with the heads of inquiry, in his own words.] is provided with a house, a piece of land, and fuel, and receives £ 76 of stipend, the whole of which is derived to him from the congregation; but, according to the usual practice of the Secession Church, so long as the congregation are unable, by their own forts, to support the regular dispensation of religious ordinances, they annually receive pecuniary aid from the United Associate Synod, and also from the two neighbouring congregations of Kirkwall and Stromness. The number of communicants on the roll of that congregation is 105, but only 68 of them belong to this parish. The whole population attending the chapel, including members, their children, and others, is about 230, and if the above proportion holds good, about 150 of them belong to this parish. The Independent chapel was built about 1824, but is not occupied every Sabbath, as the preacher resides in Harray. I cannot state his income, and perhaps I should not, as he is not resident here, but what he derives from this parish must be extremely little. I am told there are seven members connected with this chapel, and not so many additional hearers, resident in Sandwick. Making these deductions from the population, there remain 900 belonging to the Established Church, where worship is generally well attended, considering its distance from the east extremity of the parish, for the people of that district are five miles from the church of their own parish, and only one from that of Harray, where, it is to be supposed, they will frequently attend. The average number of communicants for the last six years, counting those who used tokens, is 496, and counting the official persons also, who used none, I may state it to be about 500. We yearly take a collection in church for one of the General Assembly's schemes ; but we cannot raise above L. I in this way ; for though we sent above £ 7 to one of them, and above £ 3 to another during the last two years, the greater part of these sums was raised by subscription.

Education. The total number of schools is nine ; but some of these are kept only for a short period, by persons who happen to have leisure. One of these is the parochial school, and all the rest are unendowed. The branches of education taught at the best of these, are, Latin, French, grammar, writing, arithmetic, music, outlines of civil and natural history, geography, geometry, and a little astronomy; but several taught by females, are limited to reading and sewing. The salary of the parochial teacher is £34. 4s. 4½d., but both at this, and the other schools, the school fees do not amount to much. The parochial teacher has the legal accommodation. The expense of education per quarter at it, is 1s. for reading, with grammar, writing and arithmetic, and 6d. for each important branch in addition, but 9d, and even 6d. per quarter are the fees at some of the female schools. I believe all between six and fifteen years of age can read, and a great part of them write. I do not know of more than two or three old people who cannot read. The people, in general, are alive to the benefits of education. Notwithstanding the great number of our schools, another endowed and permanent one is much wanted at the north side of the parish, where there is a population of about 500, most of whom are three miles from the parochial school, which in this climate is sufficient to prevent attendance in the winter season, when they have most time.

There is a visible improvement in the conduct of the people since the facilities of education have increased, In a printed letter of the principal resident heritor, dated 1821, he says, “This parish has been, time out of mind, so ill supplied in regard to church and school, owing, in a great measure, to the residence of the clergyman being placed at the farthest extremity of the other parish, it is wonderful to me that they are not more savage and unprincipled than they are. They are a half century behind most of the other parishes on the mainland, in civilization.”

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© 2018 Duncan Linklater Sennachie.